On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Let cool heads prevail

Malaysia cannot afford to be distracted by racial politics at this time and the thuggish behaviour of some lower level leaders has resulted in individuals fighting with fellow Malaysians and even thinking of taking on a giant.

OVER the last few years, I have had the opportunity to visit many primary schools, as part of my work in promoting the use of newspapers to learn English, in particular The Star’s Newspaper in Education programme.

This is also part of our corporate social responsibility outreach.

What struck me the most, when I show up at the Chinese primary schools, is the increasing number of non-Chinese students at such schools.

They include tudung-clad Malay pupils, Indians, the occasional Caucasian-looking kids and even a few with African parents. I have seen, with my own eyes, how the shape of these Chinese primary schools has transformed.

The teachers are just as multi-ethnic as well, which is quite a contrast to some national schools which have become predominantly mono-ethnic and even religious in nature.

If there are doubts over what I have said, then visits can be organised for our politicians to some of these schools. They can talk to the children and parents themselves to find out why they picked Chinese primary schools.

The reason is clear – parents want their children to be able to speak and write Chinese, besides Bahasa Malaysia and English. It is clearly an advantage to know an extra language.

The Chinese schools are also known for instilling discipline and maintaining ­standards, and their method of teaching mathematics is highly efficient.

But many Malaysians of my generation, who are now in their 50s and above, went to English medium schools.

I had my primary and secondary education in a Catholic school. My parents, although Chinese educated, insisted I had to go to an English medium school because it would help us in our future.

England was then the economic power house. Being proficient in English would determine our career prospects.

It was just pure economic consideration and my parents, both local born, had no sentiments with China or the Chinese language.

One of my three elder brothers was enrolled in a Chinese school but he did not do so well and his command of English was poor. It was enough for my father to make the decision.

Twenty years ago, I decided to send my daughter to the Puay Chai primary school in Petaling Jaya because my wife and I could see the emergence of China as the new super power.

English remained our medium of conversation at home and it would not be wrong to say that it was my daughter’s first language as well, despite her going to Puay Chai.

I cannot even write my name in Chinese and I remain the classic Yellow Banana – white inside and yellow outside – where I am more close to Western countries than China.

So, don’t even ask me to migrate to China – because I don’t have any relatives there and I won’t fit into mainland China. So, stop being ridiculous.

Again, sending my daughter to a Chinese primary school was made solely on econo­mic reasons. Not because of racial sentiments.

Today, China has indeed become a super power and it would be extremely foolish for any country or any half-baked racist politician to pick a fight with China.

Malaysia remains China’s top trading partner among Asean’s 10 member nations despite the slowdown in the volume of trade in 2014.

Trade between Malaysia and China reached US$102bil (RM363.5bil), down 3.8% compared with an 11.8% hike registered in 2013, according to data released by the General Administration of Customs (GAC) recently.

Last year, trade between Malaysia and China hit a historic high of US$106bil (RM467bil) with the trade volume exceeding US$100bil (RM441bil).

Malaysia has been China’s largest Asean trading partner for six consecutive years since 2008, and is also China’s third biggest trading partner in Asia after Japan and South Korea.

The two nations pledged to increase ­bilateral trade to US$160bil (RM705bil) by 2017 after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s official visit to China in May last year.

Chinese tourists are certainly needed at this juncture, especially when our depreciating ringgit has made it easier and cheaper for foreigners to come. Tourism is our ­saviour.

We want to make the Chinese tourists, whose number has already dropped by 27%, feel welcome and appreciated in Malaysia.

The events of the past weeks have been damaging and they need to be stopped. China – and the rest of the world – is watching how we are handling this diplomatic hot potato with regard to the Chinese Ambassador’s remarks in Petaling Street. It must be diplomatically resolved and we do not need some of our nitwit politicians to worsen it.

Let’s be blunt. We need China but China does not really need us. We are just a small country but we have been lucky because of our historic ties and also the far-sightedness of the late Tun Abdul Razak who forged official ties with China.

More importantly, Malaysia, with its huge Malaysian Chinese community, has been able to cement the economic relations with China because we understand the Chinese language and culture – putting us above other Asean competitors except Singapore.

This is an asset because when we are able to speak Chinese, we win the minds and hearts of the mainlanders.

This is not something to politicise. And we should be thankful that the Chinese schools have been guaranteed a place in our education system.

We must credit Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, as Education Minister then in 1999, for removing Section 21(2) of the Education Act 1961 which allowed the minister to convert a national-type primary school to a national primary school.

This surely indicated that the Government was sincere in recognising Chinese education and it must be recorded here that the Government also recognises the existence of the 60 Chinese independent schools.

Over the past few weeks, some have questioned the position of Chinese primary schools, suggesting that they are a cause of racial disunity.

I am an advocate calling for the return of English medium schools because I consider it neutral ground. But I do not subscribe to any ill thoughts about Chinese primary schools. They have a place in our system.

Furthermore, non-Chinese today make up over 13% of the student population in these schools and the number is increasing.

The racial disunity premise is not a sound argument because the reality is that Mara colleges, until some years back, were exclusively for Malays and in many science residential colleges, the students are almost entirely predominantly Malays.

Going by this argument, all our schools, colleges and public universities should be more multi-racial instead of being mono-­ethnic.

Our government lacks the political will to open up English medium schools and yet the reality is that if you can afford it, there is the private and international schools option – and we are sure many of our politicians, despite spewing remarks about race and nationalism, send their kids to these privileged schools or overseas.

The events unfolding in our beloved Malaysia over the past weeks have been painful. From raising racial slurs to bullying small-time traders trying to eke out a living in Petaling Street, and threatening to slap people, we are all left wondering why we have gone down so low.

We should be putting our energy to ­revitalise our economy and to strengthen our weakening ringgit but precious time and resources are spent dealing with the pathetic racist and thuggish behaviour of our lower level leaders. More regretfully, they have not been reprimanded by their superiors, which gives rise to speculation that their behaviour is endorsed.

We really cannot afford to be distracted by racial politics, which has resulted in indivi­duals picking fights with fellow Malaysians and even thinking of taking on a giant, which happens to be our biggest trading partner.

Have some of us gone mad? Why do we want to throw away what we have built together, as Malaysians of all races, religions and cultures?

Malaysia belongs to all of us, and not just some politicians. We have to remain rational even when they are not.